The Guide's Manual Pt. 4 - Learning from your Mistakes
Updated: Sep 13
So let me set the stage for you. Tomorrow you will have an important appointment. Maybe an interview for your dream job, perhaps the first date with your crush. You went to bed extra early, as to be well-rested on your big day. But now you are there, lying in your bed, wide awake and well past your usual bedtime. In in your head there they are, all your past mistakes spinning around your brain and keeping you awake.
Now, this kind of situation is probably familiar to you, because these intrusive thoughts are such a fundamental part of the human experience, that they are probably one of the most written-about topics in both fiction and non-fiction. And this is why I will not add to that pile of literature. Instead, I would like to pose a different question: Is it possible, that thinking about past mistakes is something that is, for most, an inherently uncomfortable? Well, at least for me it is. And for many of you, it is probably as well.
Which is a shame, because mistakes are probably the single most significant learning opportunity available to us. In fact, they are such a great learning opportunity, that there is a mountain of literature talking about how to implement an honest mistake-culture as a team leader. In fact, there are some extreme followers of this school of thought that they are adamant you do not even call the beast by the name, finding a less aggressive synonym like learning opportunity. I do not totally share that opinion. I believe that you yourself should always be own biggest critic. And part of that is honesty with yourself. And it is this topic I want to talk about today, with a focus on guided tours and how to be a better guide through honest and competent self-critique. But before we dive into the topic, let me just add a short word of warning. The tactics I am employing are mostly self-taught and developed and therefore, might be entirely bullshit. Just because these methods are working for me, it does not necessarily mean that they are transferable to you. In fact, I can very well imagine a scenario in which my way of thinking could be considered psychologically unhealthy. So please do not read this blog as an infallible piece of advice. But instead, consider it a single voice in the giant cacophony that is already dealing with this particular topic. If you are interested in this specific topic, there are plenty of other sources out there, and you should probably consider multiple different of those. But now, with this warning out of the way, let me tell you how I analyse my own mistakes.
What even is a Mistake
Right here is probably the first point to argue about. If you have a method to analyse your mistakes, what are the mistakes you should apply this method to? After all, if I consider the sheer amount of my past blunders, I could probably spend the rest of my life analysing just my highschool years. So here we start right away with my first rule: 1.: The past is off-limits. I only use this method for recent experiences. And to further reduce the number of admissible cases, I use my method mostly on the tours I guide myself. After all, this is the Guides Manual.
Now after deciding the frame for my method, let me talk about what actually constitutes an event that, in my opinion, necessitates implementing it. And the answer to this is: Everything. Now, this might come as a shock. Does that mean, I consider everything I do on tour a mistake? Well, not exactly, but let me explain. There is a school of thought, that recommends treating any and all of your performances as the worst result possible. But I do not think that this is a helpful way to evaluate yourself. After all, if your current performance truly is the worst scenario imaginable, it would mean that you have failed in every regard and need to improve everything. But that discounts the, very real, possibility that you actually did great in many respects. So instead, you should assume rule two: 2.: No matter how good your performance, it can be improved upon. Now with these two rules in place, let us now talk about method. First in a general setting, and secondly in case of what I would like to call major events.
How to critique your own tour
Now I first recommend you do this as close, time-wise, as possible to your tour, but under no circumstances start while still out with the guests. First of all, it might take your mind off more important tasks (like safety). Secondly, it might down your mood, which can lead to decreased performance in what I would like to call “Guest Entertainment”. And thirdly it might make you unsure of yourself, even get you in a nervous mood, which can, in turn, affect your performance both in safety and guest entertainment. So keep this evaluation for after the tour, but once your equipment is stored away and all your guests are gone, it is time to sit down and answer to straightforward questions.
1.: Describe three situations which you believe in having handled great.
2.: Describe three situations which you could have handled better.
Now for all these six situations, you should not only be able to describe them, but also be able to reason as to why you chose them. Preferably, you would want to do this with another person, ideally another guide who, in a perfect world, has also accompanied your tour. Quite simply put the input another person can provide on your chosen scenarios can be incredibly valuable. But remember rule three in this regard: 3.: You critique only yourself because you are your harshest critic. Still, it can be of great value to have someone weigh in on your critique, or in fact, listening to another person applying the same method. If there is no person, you trust in that matter your second best option is a pen and some paper. I actually recommend writing down your thoughts in this case as writing something down takes an equal amount of mental focus and commitment as explaining the situation to another person.
Now, after describing these six cases, you are basically already set for the next repeat of the same tour. You are now aware of the things you did great, and that you absolutely do again. And you are aware of the areas you need improvement in. And just by describing why you think those situations could have been handled better by you, the necessary steps to improve are known to you as well. This is also why we have rule four: 4.: You should not name fewer than three points to improve upon, but also not more than three. You should not list fewer points, because it is hard to imagine that there are so few things you could improve upon. If you can not recall at least three points, you are probably not totally honest with yourself. And you should, of course, not name more, because you should not overwhelm yourself with those problems, that can become unfixable if you try and focus on to many of them at once.
How to apply this to “Major Events”
Now we have set the stage and explained the basic methodology let us now talk about major events. Such an event is everything that would justify applying our method of self-critique. So it is really up to you when to use it, but examples for me include: Accidents, cases where I got lost (and guests noticed), guests needing to abort the tour due to their fitness, as well as many other examples in the same vein. Basically, everything that could have monetary implications for you or your company.
Now the process stays the same to a general critique of your tour. And all the rules apply as well. But now there are two extra steps. The first new step is actually the first thing you do: You describe the entire situation, as neutral as possible. Then you repeat the same process as before. You name three things you believe in having handled well, as well as three things you could have handled better. And after a careful analysis of these points, it is time to ask one final question. And that question is a real bummer: “How could I have prevented this situation?”
Now I am fully aware that you can not prevent everything. One of the realities of working as a guide in the outdoor industry is that you will experience accidents and near misses that you could have done absolutely nothing about. And especially after an accident, you could have done nothing about, it could be absolutely unhealthy to follow these thoughts, that defacto end up making you out as the person at fault. So I actually can not recommend doing those evaluations on paper, but instead with another person. In extreme cases, you should even consult a professional psychologist to assist you in this matter.
The unpreventability of some situations also are the reasons why we focus on the handling of the actual crisis situation with our standard questions. Thes Situations are an unavoidable part of the job, but once they actually happen the quality and professionalism you reach in your response can determine a lot about the result. So while it is definitely an uncomfortable topic, here more than anywhere else, you can significantly profit from your own honest analysis. ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
So this is it for this chapter of the Guides Manual. Sorry for all you folks who hoped for the second part of my Transalpine Blog. I had been thinking about writing on this particular topic for quite some while, but could never find the right words. So when inspiration finally hit, I just had to jump on that. I will, hopefully, post the next part of the Transalpine Blog next weekend. Until then, you can check out our YouTube - Channel. There we have some new videos on the Transalpine Mountainbike Tour.